Life After Levon: The Midnight Ramble Rambles On
Campbell experienced a wide range of emotions while performing at the Ramble.
“There were moments when I just missed the guy terribly,” Campbell says of Helm. “I felt a stab in the gut realizing what we were doing and looking over to my left and he’s not there. It was palpably shocking at moments. But then you’d go from there to this incredible joy, when I just let the music take over and had these moments of feeling like nothing has changed, and that’s a pretty interesting dichotomy … It’s going to take some getting used to.”
Helm had also shared many moments with Isaacs, who plays bass and sings in the Levon Helm Band and contributed original songs to Dirt Farmer and Helm’s 2009 CD, Electric Dirt, which won the first ever Grammy awarded in the category of Best Americana Album.
“What keeps coming back to my mind,” Isaacs says shortly before taking the stage, “is his fire, as a musician – the really focused, relentless outpouring of energy, from all fronts.”
Levon Helm Band guitarist Jim Weider, who grew up in Woodstock, knew Helm for decades and performed with him in different ensembles, including The Band. During a separate conversation, Weider also used the word “focused” to describe Helm.
“When I think of Levon,” Weider says shortly before the Ramble started, “I think of a very strong, focused, big-hearted human, who loved to laugh and loved to live life in its fullest form, and music was always at the forefront.
Weider, while playing with his fellow Levon Helm Band members, shredded Chuck Berry’s “Deep Feeling.” That tune was one of many that packed a lot of punch that night. The set list also featured The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek;” a gentle but soaring rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “Attics Of My Life;” and a defiant “When I Go Away,” from Electric Dirt.
“I loved that people would come here, knowing that they could get the best night, musically, of their lives,” Sandy Helm says. “It was an honor that Lee could give them that, a night that they could never forget. And they just got better and better.”
The spirit of the Midnight Ramble remains strong, as do the memories of the man from Arkansas, who touched so many people with his passion for performing.
“He wanted the musicians to be playing as much music as possible, and he wanted music lovers to be listening to as much music as possible … and most importantly, having fun and feeling joy in all of it,” Amy Helm says. “He absolutely wanted that to continue. It would be the greatest honor to his name for us to let this building continue to live as a musical temple. Let it be a place where people come and when they play they feel great, and let it be a place where people come and listen to the music and feel great. That would be the greatest honor to him. That’s what he wanted.”
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